Day 42 – Corvallis -> Mt. Hood OR

Today is a big driving day, as we’re heading to Mt. Hood. So by our standards, we got an early start being out of Heather’s house by 10:30. We wanted to take some time to have lunch at Nearly Normal’s, a vegetarian place where one of our transplanted La Crosse friends is working. We shared an order of deluxe potatoes and a breakfast burrito, and were quite satisfied. Much of the food is organic, and there was plenty of it. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but well worth tracking down.

To get from Corvallis to Mt. Hood, we had carefully plotted a course that avoided Salem and Portland. We crossed the Willamette River via car ferry, stopped at a wildlife refuge, and saw many other wonderful and unusual things on these back roads. But this particular drive will be best remembered as the inspiration for the Signage Rant.

Those of us who live in Wisconsin may not appreciate it, but our roads – even our back roads – are very well-marked. When a decision-making point is coming, we usually get signage that explains all of our options well in advance. Then when we get to the point of decision, we are reminded of our options by yet another set of signs and arrows.

On most of the West Coast – especially in Oregon – the signage has been pathetic. We cannot count the number of turns we’ve missed due to missing signs, poorly positioned signs, or signs that couldn’t be read until it was too late. It’s easy to see how drivers unfamiliar with local roads can cause accidents by making dangerous u-turns or turning from the wrong lane – maneuvers which wouldn’t have been necessary given adequate signage. Good signs may be expensive, but it is highly likely that people have died because some state’s DOT tried to save a few bucks on signs.

The big agricultural product of this part of Oregon is grass seed… the stuff that the rest of America spreads on dirt to try to grow lawns. Much of this part of the state is turned into massive (mile after mile) lawns every spring. But instead of mowing the grass, it is allowed to grow and go to seed. After combines harvest the seed, the grass is baled up for livestock feed and bedding, and then the fields are burned off.

The burning cleanses the fields so that the next crop of grass is free of weeds which would contaminate the next batch of seed. The burning also fills the skies with big clouds of smoke which used to make everyone gag. The pollution agencies decided to ban the burning unless the atmospheric conditions were just right.

Now the government keeps track of the weather, and the farmers can’t burn unless and until they’re told it’s ok. The smoke-filled skies and blackened tracts of land of western Oregon are all part of the price we all pay for our lawns. All we could think about is how much food could be grown on all of that land and with all that water.

Mt. Hood is another dormant volcano, standing at over 11,000 feet. When we got there we made a stop at the Timeberline Lodge. It’s a big place, built by craftspeople and artists as part of a Federal work project in the 1930’s. People that like to design and build will marvel at the way this place is put together. People who are into art and aesthetics will marvel at the carvings incorporated into seemingly every nook and cranny.

There’s a marvelous view of the mountain above, and also a great view of the mountains to the south, including Mt. Jefferson, another 10,000-foot-plus peak about 50 miles away. You don’t have to be a guest to go in and hang out in the lobby for a while, but rooms are not as expensive as we’d anticipated. If any of the sub-$100 rooms were still available, we might have booked one.

We stayed in a National Forest Campground nearby called the Alpine Campground. It was a very nice place to us in the evening … maybe a touch close to the road, but there was almost no traffic after dark. It was quiet and peaceful with a vivid display of stars.

Day 40-41 – Corvallis OR

Corvallis is a college town (Oregon State), but it’s the kind that’s relatively quiet in the summer time. We deployed our bikes onto the friendly streets and well-designed bike paths and found our way to the food coop to restock.

The campus offered vast expanses of well-kept lawns for us to spread out with our friends and throw frisbees to each other. It also offered just the right trees to shade us for a lunch time picnic.

We were staying with our friend Heather, who put us up in a boarding house she manages. She was part of a close circle of friends in La Crosse until she got the urge to move to Oregon. In fact, a bunch of La Crosse people jumped on the Oregon Trail at around the same time, and now they all live in Corvallis.

Steve and Diane met us there, and the owner of a La Crosse head shop stopped by with his companion. While some of us gathered at Heather’s house, it was observed that between those who were visiting and those who were transplanted, there were twelve La Crosse people in the room.

One of the drawbacks of doing such a whirlwind trip is that you can only do a tiny portion of the things you really want to. One festival we regret missing is Da Vinci Days, a celebration of creativity and inventiveness.

On our way to the coop this morning we passed the festival grounds during an electric car race. These innovative vehicles looked like a cross between hi-tech soap-box cars and electric go-carts.

Late in the day, we went to see a covered bridge on the edge of town, and it happened to be on the route of the Kinetic Sculpture Race. We saw huge pedal-powered contraptions come by, resembling something that combines parade floats and large animatronic creatures. There were costumed teams of people to propel, guide and navigate each machine.

As the racers disappeared into the sunset, it was a whimsical close to our full day in Corvallis.

Day 39 – Coos Bay -> Corvallis OR

Sage and Amanda set us up with an indoor space to sleep overnight, and the lack of a check-out time provided a chance to catch up on some well-needed rest. Coos Bay is an old harbor town built in the middle of an old lagoon. A shipping channel was carved through the barrier islands, turning north to form a peninsula around the town itself before reaching the main harbor on the east (inland) side of town.

Sage and Amanda live on the west side of the peninsula, near the harbor entrance. We didn’t have to go far from their back yard to do a walkabout along the waterside. It was refreshingly cool along the coast, which was a welcome change from the heat further inland.

Our drive out of town took us along the channel until we met Highway 101. Leaving town required passage over a long steel bridge arching over the harbor, and some pictures to look back at the bay that gives the town its name.

The drive from Coos Bay to Corvallis was memorably scenic. The Oregon Coast north of Coos Bay is known for sand dunes, most of which we saw from a distance, though we weren’t far enough away to escape the roar and whine of the dozens of dirt vehicles playing on the dunes. At any rate, the ocean meets the dunes which blend right into the forests, rivers, lakes and mountains.

In between the sand dunes we saw industrial saw mills, loaded logging trucks, and frequent clear-cuts. We noticed an effort to “hide” the clear-cuts from passing tourists: A few rows of trees near the highways are allowed to stand in hopes that passing travelers won’t notice the miles of stumps behind them.

Turning inland at Florence, we followed the Suislaw River as we made our way toward Corvallis. We turned onto a back road at Mapleton going to Triangle Lake, which was well worth an easy-paced side trip.

Our friend Heather is another La Crosse transplant who is now managing a boarding house in Corvallis. She is another person we interacted with at the Country Fair, but not enough. We arrived an hour after dark and she set us up on the living room floor. We’ll begin our proper visit tomorrow.

Day 38 – Roseburg -> Coos Bay OR

We signed off last night from a Best Western in Roseburg, next door to one of the town’s only service stations, where the Big Red Dog was deposited by a tow truck driver from Chemult who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fix our tire at Crater Lake. By the time we got to the gas station where the truck was parked, they had already done what the AAA guy at Crater Lake should have done last night: fixed the tire with a “plug” repair kit. The kid at the garage said it was a rock … apparently a very sharp rock, or one that hit the tread exactly the wrong way.

With the exception of the bozo we had to deal with last night, we’ve had pretty good luck with mechanics. Perhaps this guy from Chemult was pay-back for all the excellent service we’ve had. Now if only Sam’s Club would actually honor their road-hazard warranty on our tire…

Before we move on, we need to respond to a message from one of our readers that was entertainingly critical and had a thread of truth buried under its sarcasm. What we appreciated about the message is that it forced us to ponder and articulate the reasons for these explorations and for the reporting we are doing.

This message was in response to our definition of “mutants” that was part of the Grand Canyon episode.

so guys you are on this trip with a nice  bit of change in your tie dyed purple pocket.  and what do i read but this venom about how everyone else is f***ed up in your version of the world.  no one drives right no one appreciates nature as well as both of you. and thank the lord your such fabulous tour guides. with such great in sites in to ancient architecture.  come on lighten up and have some fun. and get off that organic soap box your on.  instead of complaining about the other people at the grand canyon  did you love it wasn’t it beautiful at sunset.  wasn’t it breathtaking what nature has done.  instead of what a piece of shit people are that have come to look at from the air. so let your considerable amount of hair down and relax and chill and enjoy yourselves.  let your love of what you see come through.     love  a mutant!!!!!!

Our response is that any travel writer can talk about how beautiful everything is, and we do try to do that. But every beautiful place has its flip-side, and it would be a lie of omission not to mention at least some of the ugly things that we see. Every glossy tourist brochure will tell you how beautiful the Grand Canyon is from the air, but they won’t tell you how noisy and annoying the planes and helicopters are to people on the ground. Films about Colorado will say “look at the beautiful mountains,” but they won’t show you the entire mountains that are being carved up and carted away by the mining companies.

We can’t talk about the mountains covered with forests without talking about the mountains covered with stumps. That’s not who we are. Our “organic soap box” is a key part of our lives. We must point out the flaws in the universe that can and should be fixed in order to make the world a better place.

We don’t make any claims of being experts on anything. We write about what moves us – both good and bad – and we describe things the way we see them. The descriptions of what we see will be tainted by our vision, which is a far better thing than being tainted by the vision of tourist bureaus, travel agents and corporate sponsors. The Truth may not always be pretty, but it’s better than bullshitting.

With that behind us, we’ve been bothered by something that’s been all over the local news. It’s been very dry out here, and the reservoir near Klamath Falls is running out of water. But there are endangered fish who live in the reservoir, so the government has forbidden any more water to be drawn until it starts to rain again. Some ranchers who use that water have gone to the dam, cut the locks with bolt cutters, and opened the flood gates themselves. Local police and sheriff’s deputies stood by and did nothing.

If Greenpeace, Earth First!, or any other group of environmentalists had come to the dam to close the gates on behalf of those fish, they would have been met with armies of police in riot gear. Every person within five miles would have been beaten, maced, and thrown in jail for weeks.

The lawbreakers who opened the floodgates are – in the eyes of federal law – environmental vandals on a grand scale; yet instead of going to jail, they go back to their homes. The cops stand around eating donuts while two species of fish struggle for mere existence. The hypocrisy of this situation makes our blood boil.

And while in a ranting mode (we haven’t had our coffee yet), let us say a few words about motel room tv sets. We wonder how much of our room rate is paying for these big color tv’s and cable connections that we never use. $5? $10? $20? A lot of these places charge by the minute for local phone calls, yet the tv and cable work perfectly, no extra charge.

We had one place tell us that local calls were a quarter, but the next morning we were billed over $6 for spending 50 minutes on the Internet (a local call). C’mon people! Skip the tv and give us a phone that works, and pass the savings on to us.

So with our tire fixed, we were ready to roll toward Coos Bay. Never wanting to go the easy way, we found a road called the Coos Bay Wagon Road. It’s worth the time and effort, but expect it to take an afternoon to cover what would be about two hours on the main highway. It’s winding, with lots of narrow blacktop stretches and lots of narrow gravel stretches; and it alternates between areas of logging activity and areas that seem to be protected. In some places the forest is so old and dense that the midday light level feels like late twilight, and every turn brings a new surprise in the form of waterfalls, rock formations and temperate jungles of moss and ferns.

Just as the traffic began to diminish, we found a roadside park called Iverson Memorial County Park. It was little more than a picnic table, primitive rest room and a hand-pumped well (the kind of place that Wisconsin would call a “Wayside”), but it was shaded by a mossy forest of uncut evergreen trees. It was a great rest stop before the challenging part of the drive.

Our beloved correspondent quoted above will not approve of our bringing this up (though they shouldn’t be surprised, either), but we were disgusted by the clear-cutting we saw. Of course we knew it was coming, but the scale of this activity was not something we were prepared for.

Before we get criticized for being anti-lumber while living in a wooden house, we must emphasize that our problem with clear-cutting is not the mere harvesting of lumber, but that it is the wrong way to harvest lumber (unless, of course, you only care about maximizing profit with no consideration for the welfare of the forest itself).

We saw entire mountains lying bare. This is a dry year (as evidenced by the dry and brittle moss everywhere), so new plant life is having a tough time taking hold. If and when it DOES rain, expect to hear about lots of mudslides, because there is nothing left to hold the mountains together.

Late in the afternoon we emerged from the coastal rain forest and reached the coast at Coos Bay. Coos Bay is part fishing town (mostly oysters) and part logging/lumber center. It looks as if it’s seen better days, but a rebound is in progress as the vacant storefronts are becoming professional offices.

Coos Bay is also a harbor town. Lumber used to come from nearby mills to be loaded onto waiting ships. But now we hear tales of ships being loaded with fresh-cut logs. The unemployment surge in lumber country is not to be blamed on “environmentalists shutting down logging.” All those sawmill jobs are being shipped overseas on boats full of unprocessed logs.

Our main reason for going to Coos Bay was to visit Sage. Many readers of these long-winded posts remember Sage as Scotto, one of the two people responsible for RoZ and Obbie being together.

Roughly a week ago, we connected with Sage and met his sweetie Amanda for the first time at the Oregon Country Fair. He was a volunteer with the water crew, and we were running around like excited children, so our interactions were fleeting.

So we’re all looking forward to some quality time hanging out and catching up.

When we got to Coos Bay we were hungry, so we had dinner at a Mexican place while we waited. Sage met us on a motorcycle and escorted us to his place on the coastal side of the Coos Bay peninsula. Then we spent time hanging out and eating their landlord’s berries. On Friday night the four of us went to a deserted beach nearby and sat around a great bonfire we built out of driftwood.

Day 37 – Oakridge -> Crater Lake -> Roseburg OR

Our day started in a cheap motel room in Oakridge, Oregon. We got out just before check-out time and found breakfast at Mannings Cafe down the road. It was a nice basic breakfast, with OK food and enough of it to be satisfied. After days of wonderful coffee, theirs seemed rather lame, but we still thought it was good to find a place like this in the boondocks.

We drove up to Crater Lake Wednesday afternoon, but only had time for a short hike. After taking some pictures from the rim of the crater, we followed the Lightning Springs Trail. This trail alternates between groves of Douglas Fir and an ecosystem we’d never seen before: pumice desert. The ground cover on pumice desert was very sparse and unique, while around the edges young fir trees would be encroaching. There’s a hike-in campsite near Lightning Springs itself, which would be a good base for further exploration of the mountainside.

While we were hiking, the air was leaking out of one of our tires from a nail that we picked up someplace. So we limped to Crater Lake Village, found a pay phone and called AAA. We were told the mechanic would be coming from Chemult, about an hour away. While we waited, we took in the buffet meal at the Watchman Restaurant.

The food was standard fare for a dinner buffet, well prepared but nothing special. There was a big picture window with a nice view of the lake, but since the window was by the entrance there were always crowds of people milling around in front of it, so we couldn’t really see anything. The ambience wasn’t helped by the number of families with whining and bratty kids.

The AAA guy showed up just after we’d finished dinner, but things didn’t go well. As with most small pick-up trucks, our spare tire is suspended under the bed toward the rear of the truck. When a trailer hitch was added, it made it almost impossible to get the tire out.

We stressed to the AAA dispatcher: “Make sure he brings tools, because a trailer hitch needs to be removed before the spare will come out. Make sure he has a plug-repair kit so he can fix the tire on the spot if he can’t get the spare out.” He showed up with no tools and no fix-it kit. He crawled around under the truck for half an hour cussing at it before coming up with a solution: Tow us to his shop in Chemult.

Chemult is an hour away, the wrong way. We ended up getting towed to Roseburg in hopes of getting the tire fixed in the morning … 95 miles away, just barely within the limits of our AAA+ membership.

So that’s where we sit now, at the end of a kind of bad luck day. All the cheap motels in Roseburg were nowhere near any repair shops. The only repair shop near a motel was by a Best Western. So in a town full of $30 rooms, we’re in a Best Western.

And we’re still fuming about the utter incompetence of that AAA driver. But on the other hand, he might have been scamming AAA. After all, he gets paid for towing us nearly 100 miles to Roseburg, even though it’s free to us. He gets paid a lot more than he would for fixing the tire on the spot.

At any rate, not having our tire fixed where it could have and should have been fixed…. that deprived us of the scenic drive to Roseburg. Maybe tomorrow will be better.